Roasting transforms processed green coffee beans into the fragrant and delicious coffee you brew every day. Did you know, the level to which beans are roasted is one of the most important factors that determine the flavors you taste in your favorite cup? Learn more about the different types of roasts, how much caffeine you can expect in each, and what products you can try to experience the full spectrum of coffee flavors from light to dark.
Heat and the art of coffee roasting
Heat is the essential element of coffee roasting and what releases the array of flavors and aromas that make coffee so alluring. During the roasting process, high levels of heat are applied to green coffee beans, which causes a dramatic chemical change.
Starting between 280 and 330 degrees Fahrenheit, the high temperatures inside of a coffee roaster force water and other volatile compounds out of the coffee beans. Then, sugars and amino groups in proteins react with the heat and cause the beans to brown. This reaction is called the Maillard reaction and is the same chemical process that creates the distinct and delicious flavors of browned foods like steak, pan-seared vegetables, and toasted marshmallows.
As the temperature increases, further chemical reactions take place. Once the water inside the beans is completely vaporized around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, the beans expand and crack. A light roast coffee is done at this point, but medium and dark roast beans continue to react and change. Around 430 degrees Fahrenheit, coffee beans undergo a chemical process called Pyrolysis, which causes the release of carbon dioxide and a second crack, which gives the beans their deep, rich color and dark roast beans an oily sheen.
Timing is everything
Time is another critical element of coffee roasting and much more challenging to master. The difference between the desired roast level and a burned bean can be just a matter of seconds. That’s why experience matters.
Coffee roasting equipment
Coffee roasting is an activity where all your senses are engaged. The color of the beans, sounds, and aromas they produce are all clues to achieving the perfect roast. Thankfully we also have technology. When beans enter a commercial coffee roaster, software is used to program and select the desired roast level, but it takes a human touch to get it just right.
As the beans roast, they are closely monitored by a roasting professional. A small scoop is inserted into the roasting drum every few seconds to check the color and texture of the beans. As soon as the desired roast level is achieved, the beans are quickly transferred to a cooling drum, where they are gently stirred to reduce their temperature and stop the roasting process.
Coffee Roast Types
Surprisingly, there is not much industry standardization when it comes to coffee roasting types and labels. Each roastmaster may have their own equipment, time, and temperature formulas for achieving their signature roasts. However, most coffee roasts fall somewhere on a spectrum of light to medium, medium-dark, and dark roasts.
Light roast coffee is light brown in color and retains more caffeine than darker roasts. In general, it has a mild flavor and more acidity or brightness than darker roasts because the beans haven’t roasted long enough to force the natural oils out of the bean. Another appealing quality of light roast coffee is that you may taste more flavor nuances unique to its origin.
When purchasing light roast coffee, look for labels with the following descriptors:
- Light roast
- Light city roast
- Half city roast
- Cinnamon roast
Select MZB light roast coffees
- Chock full o’Nuts® Coffee, Gourmet Roast, Mild Roast
- Chock full o’Nuts® Soho Morning Mild Roast Single-Serve Pods
- Hills Bros.® Single-Serve Coffee Pods Morning Roast, Light Roast
- Kauai Coffee® Single-Serve Pods, Island Sunrise, Mild Roast 100% Arabica
Medium roast coffee is sometimes referred to as American roast because of its popularity in the USA. Medium roast coffee is a deeper brown color than light roast but still retains a matte or unglossy finish. Medium roast coffee strikes a balance between bright, sweet, and bitter flavors, which is why it is a palate pleaser for so many.
When shopping for medium roasts, look for labels such as:
- Medium roast
- City roast
- Breakfast roast
- American roast
Select MZB medium roast coffees
- Chock full o’Nuts® Single-Serve Coffee Pods, 100% Colombian, Medium Roast – Premium Arabica
- Chock full o’Nuts® Single-Serve Coffee Pods, Midtown Manhattan Medium Roast
- Hills Bros.® Coffee, Original Blend, Medium Roast
- Chase & Sanborn® Special Roast, Ground
- See all medium roast ground, single-serve, and whole bean coffees here
Coffee roasted to a medium-dark level is a rich, dark brown color and has a slightly oily or glossy finish. At this roast level, the natural oils in the coffee bean are forced to the surface, and most of the acidic bite or brightness you can taste in light and medium roast coffees all but disappears. Medium-dark roast coffee can have a sweet aftertaste that balances well with the more bitter flavor notes that can appear at this roast level.
When shopping for medium roast coffee, look for labels that say:
- Full city roast
The darker the roast, the less caffeine the coffee will contain. Dark roast coffee is very dark in color with a gleaming, oily finish. The most notable flavor attribute of dark roast coffee is its striking bitterness. Because of the pronounced bitter notes of dark roast coffee, it pairs exceptionally well with milk or cream.
Dark roast coffee is called by many names. When shopping for dark roast coffee, look for labels such as:
- Dark roast
- French roast
- Italian roast
- Espresso roast
- Continental roast
Select MZB dark roast coffees
- Chock full o’Nuts® Coffee, Cuban Roast, Dark Roast
- Kauai Coffee®, Single-Serve Pods, Na Pali Coast, Dark Roast, 100% Premium Arabica
- Hills Bros.® Coffee, 100% Colombian, Dark Roast Bag
Ultimately, the roast you choose is all about your preferences. If you enjoy more caffeine in the morning, you may enjoy a light roast to start the day. If you prefer your coffee has a bit of a bite, try dark roasts and experimenting with cream, milk, and sugar. What’s your favorite roast? Tell us on Facebook or Instagram. Follow @chockfullonutsnyc, @hillsbroscoffee, @kauaicoffeeco, @mjb_coffee, and @SegafredoUSA